Saturday, May 21, 2016

My mother-in-law doesn't wear pants

My mother-in-law came to visit earlier this month, and we're wrapping up the three-week visit on Monday. She came out of her room the first morning with no pants, and I'm honestly not sure how to process that. I had a conversation with my wife about it to see if it is something we can talk about, but little has changed. The annoying part of no pants is the mole hill. The mountain is the baggage my wife has regarding her mother and the way that she handles that baggage.

My wife is an only child. Her mother had her when she was very young (16), and her mother was a pretty self-absorbed teenager, young woman, and now older woman. My wife's memories of her childhood vary greatly from her mother's memories of the same time period. It is obvious, while watching their interaction, that my wife spent much of her life mothering her mother. When my wife is around her mother, she gets stressed and snippy and bitchy. I can understand that; her mother drives me crazy, too.

The MIL has spent much of this visit complaining about my tea kettle, my cooking, and the fact that I'm not feeding my wife a diet of foods that are good for the immune system. Now, my MIL wasn't here for the first month of chemo, when I was just trying to get my wife to eat something - anything. Yes, this month's chemo has been much better, but I'm not forcing foods on my wife. She's an adult, and she'll eat what she wants to eat. If she requests something, I'm fixing it. If she hates the asparagus that she normally loves, I'm not pushing it. So - MIL and I have had a few respectful squibbles about food, about how we run our house, and the truths that I see in their relationship.

I don't think this visit has gone a long way in fixing the non-relationship we already had. I'm not letting my mother-in-law walk all over my wife, and I'm not letting her tell me how to run our lives. She's here for a visit; we're here for the long haul. And, I value, respect, and love my wife too much to let her mother make her feel any less than the amazing woman she is.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Taking care of me

I have a friend who checks in on me regularly and one of the questions she always asks is how I am taking care of myself. Honestly, I'm not the best at taking care of me. I power through things by working, which is why I seem to accomplish things so quickly. I've been known to work  in the middle of the night when I can't get back to sleep (in fact, just this week). When I find something that is simply too upsetting or overwhelming to deal with, I work. Down time has never been a good thing for me. Today, I am sitting at the cancer center while my wife has her second round of chemo. My mother-in-law is here and has spent much of the day with my wife, which has left me with very little to do. Guess what; the down time is driving me nuts. And, I left work yesterday caught up on the things that I can do without connecting with others. So, I'm trying to decide how best to take care of myself. I have a book to read, but reading doesn't appeal to me at the moment. It is a lovely day outside, and I've been on several short walks, but I don't want to be away for too long in case my wife needs me. In the grand scheme, today is a short day and I should be able to just chill. But, that isn't likely to happen. Beyond today, though, I need to figure out how I am going to take care of myself in the coming two weeks, when things are likely to spiral out of control for my wife. The next two weeks is when she will be her sickest and I will be her caretaker (she is coming around to that word now), and these are the moments that I need to care for me, too. The struggle to figure out what that looks like is real, and I'm certainly open to suggestions. The one thing I know is that I have to figure it out - soon; I think I just figured out what I need to work on today.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

When love hurts

This year is the 10 year anniversary of my first partner's death. I have revisited her illness and her death a little more lately, with my wife's cancer diagnosis. The two sets of circumstances are completely different, but it is difficult not to make comparisons.

I remember when we first heard about Dee's illness and how devastated we were. We went through ups and downs as we learned about the diagnosis and its terminal nature, then going through the process to determine transplant eligibility, and finally being told that she was not eligible for a transplant. Through the entire process, I was Dee's caretaker. We went to all of her doctor's appointments together. I toted her oxygen tanks and wheel chair, kept track of her meds, made sure she ate (even if it meant cooking 10 different meals), bathed her, and held her in the middle of the night when she woke up with yet another coughing fit. And, if I had to do it all again, I would in a heartbeat. That's what it means to love - even when love hurts. 

Fast forward almost ten years, and now I'm married to someone who dislikes, no - HATES - the idea of me being a caregiver or caretaker. She believes caretaking connotes that she can't care for herself. She's an independent woman, who wants to take care of herself... until she doesn't. Unfortunately, I'm not a good reader of when that shift happens, and I have been known to miss clues that she needs me. 

Needless to say, the two relationships, as well as the two women, are completely different. Here's the rub, though, I'm the same person. I am a caretaker. Taking care of my wife is how I cope, and I'm left without that ability right now. So, I'm flailing around trying to figure out what my role is in my wife's illness. What, exactly, is it, that I'm supposed to do? And, make no mistake about it; I need to be doing something. Doing nothing means I'm feeling helpless, and I hate to feel helpless almost as much as she hates the word caretaker. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The dog likes to lick my tears

Today, for no apparent reason, I cried. By all accounts it was a good day. I mowed the lawn, edged the driveway, and built a little patio for my grill. My wife has been gone for a few days and will be gone for a few more days, so I am feeling a bit lonely for her, but that loneliness doesn't account for my tears.

I noticed that Spirit, one of my dogs, seemed to be in need of some attention and love. We have this thing where I will lie on the floor and put my feet in the chair, and she lay next to me. Typically, these sessions turn into real love fests. This is the one time that she is allowed to lick my face, and she does so with gusto. Today was no exception. After about 20 minutes of petting and loving on her and her licking me, I just started crying. Her licking went into hyper-mode when she got a taste of my tears. I guess I needed that cry, and she needed to taste my tears. We spent a good hour on the floor, just being with one another. I still can't explain my tears, but I do feel refreshed. That may be the still wet glow from her licking.

This week, my wife begins chemotherapy. I have to be honest; I'm terrified - not of the chemo but of the possibility of it not working. I know that it will destroy most of the cancer while treatment is happening, but what about after? She has a disease that will not go away, even with chemo. So, what does that mean for us? I know she will live with this disease for the rest of her life, but what does that look like? I think I'm beginning to understand my tears. Despite having the answers about her diagnosis and the treatment plan, I still don't know the answers.

I guess we never know the answers. Perhaps that is the perpetual difficulty with life. I just feel like we were beginning to figure everything out and have finally built the life that we dreamed of, and now we have this kink in the plan. I know that life comes with kinks, but I'm really tired of untying knots. I've been doing it for too long.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Let me start by saying that I hate cliches, yet I titled this post as a cliche. It is true that the more things change the more they stay the same, because we try to make sense of the world by drawing on our schema or prior experiences. New things feel familiar... until they don't. It is when they do not feel familiar that we have to begin making new sense of them. It feels a bit like I'm talking in circles here.

I recently finished an internship and had to say goodbye to a group of elementary aged children about whom I truly care. It was difficult to say goodbye. I remember feeling this way when I left the schools where I completed my student teaching. I also remember feeling this way when I left my brick & mortar school to begin working in the world of virtual education. Every time that I have closed a chapter, I have felt a wave of sadness. Interestingly, each time that I have closed a chapter, there has been major changes in my life. My first partner died 12 days before I began my first Master's program. My wife was moving 13 hours away when I began my virtual teaching, and my wife was diagnosed with cancer while I have been finishing my 2nd Master's degree. Things always happen to me in waves. I think that I feel so intensely because things happen so intensely around me. To be honest, it is this intensity and the fact that I have a truly gentle soul, despite my crusty exterior.

I began spring break today, and I have an entire week for just me. I'm not sure what to do with that week. I considered a cruise or last minute vacation, but I have so much to discover where I live that I may play tourist in my town. What I do know is that I need to take some time and just feel - because feeling is important and because to not allow myself to feel is dangerous. And, I'm already vulnerable. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Some days I suck at life

We found out about a month ago that my wife has cancer. We've had lots of ups and downs since receiving that news. This weekend was a down weekend, and it's all my fault. Since her diagnosis, I've been pretty preoccupied with things that seriously did need my attention, but none of those things mattered as much as my wife's cancer diagnosis. She has been working on trying to get a 2nd opinion and needed to obtain records. She thought she had it under control, but found out very late in the day - on a Friday - that her records were never sent. She called me and asked for phone numbers so that she could call. Here's where I suck... I didn't offer to make any calls for her. I gave her the phone numbers. She's driving down the road at 80 mph, upset, and trying to call two different inefficient hospitals, while her partner does absolutely nothing. Of course she was angry. I would have been, too. Things went from bad to worse when I seemed like I didn't give a damn about what was going on. In reality, though, I'm feeling pretty helpless right now. Should have I called? Should I be doing more? Am I wrong? Yep. I own that. I suck at life. Friday night was a pretty important meltdown. It needed to happen. She said lots of things that I needed to hear.

She said one thing, though, that has me really thinking. She told me that I've been acting like this is all about me. Maybe I have; I'm not sure. Here's what I do know. Her diagnosis is scary to me. No - let me rephrase. Her diagnosis is terrifying to me. I know she's living with cancer, and she's the one who is sick. There are no "buts" to that statement. I think, though, that folks forget that the person who loves the one with cancer is horribly impacted by the news as well. No, I'm not sick with cancer. I feel helpless. So, do I act like it's all about me? Maybe, because the things that I feel are all about me and my love for her. I can't know what's going through her mind. I can't fix what's going on in her body. I can own the anger she has toward me for not stepping up to the plate. I can't own that it's all about me. It isn't; it's all about us because us has been forever changed.

Do I suck at life? Yeah, I do. I am too busy doing everything but helping my wife do the things she needs to do to get better. Can I change? Yes. Will I? I hope so. Not changing may change us even more than her cancer diagnosis, and that is a possibility I just can't wrap my head around.